Tuesday, 23 June 2015

New reviews - June 2015

Picture Books for young children

This is My Rock

Written and illustrated by David Lucas

Flying Eye   £11.99

ISBN: 978-1909263505

Little Goat feels proud. He is on top of the rock and he certainly doesn’t plan to share being there with the smaller goats, or the other animals that come climbing his way, or the birds that fly to it. But as the sun goes down he begins to have second thoughts. Bold and stylish illustrations, with very little text, make this book perfect to share with a young audience. A story about sharing, friendship and loneliness, with plenty to talk about. 

Marianne Adey


I Wish I’d Been Born a Unicorn

Written by Rachel Lyon

Illustrated by Andrea Ringli

Maverick Arts   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1848861176

A delightful story about the true nature of friendship. Mucky is a muddy, grubby horse, and he feels very sad and left out when the other horses don’t want to play with him because he is so smelly. But, clever owl steps in and hatches a plan. With the assistance of some cows and a frog, and using milk to paint Mucky white and a shell for a horn, he is transformed overnight into a beautiful unicorn. But, it starts to rain! Only then does Mucky discover that his true friends really don’t mind what he looks like, but care more about how he feels, which the wise owl had already tried to tell him. Using fresh colours and boldly drawn figures, with wonderfully expressive eyes, the story is illustrated sympathetically A lovely book to share with toddlers and preschoolers alike.

Lucy Russell

The Scarecrows’ Wedding

Written by Julia Donaldson

Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Alison Green   £12.99

ISBN: 9781-407144412

An endearing tale of perseverance, collaboration and loyalty, The Scarecrows’ Wedding is the latest offering from the dream team that brought us such contemporary classics as The Gruffalo, Stick Man and Room on the Broom. Bursting with all the warmth and character we have come to expect from Axel Scheffler’s illustrations, the story follows two scarecrows, deeply in love as they prepare for their wedding, with the help of various animals around the farm, including, rather eccentrically, a crab. Tension builds as the bridegroom to be, Harry O’Hay, sets off to find some flowers for the bouquet, leaving his bride, Betty O’Barley, waiting back at the farm. Harry’s journey takes longer than expected and a new, somewhat swaggering scarecrow, Reginald Rake, tries to take his place. Will Betty be wooed by Reginald’s charms? Will Harry make it back to claim his beloved bride? My three year old took great delight in the clever and witty rhymes that keep the compelling story bouncing along, and both of us enjoyed the satisfaction of a happy and romantic ending.

Rowan Stanfield

First Steps in reading for young children


Rita’s Rhino

Written and illustrated by Tony Ross

Andersen   £11.99

ISBN: 978-1783440252

Rita wants a pet, but her Mum refuses to get her one. So, Rita decides to go and get one for herself, from the Zoo. She decides on a rhinoceros. But keeping a pet rhino secret isn’t an easy thing to do and taking care of him proves to be a lot harder than she anticipated. Tony Ross excels at blending the absurd with the normality of the everyday and, as usual, it works really well. The idea of Rita sneaking a rhino unnoticed out of the zoo, covered up with a small hat and coat to hide him from observant eyes, is deliciously funny. The joys and difficulties of owning a pet are explored in a fresh and original way. Full of wit, the illustrations work well with the text, adding additional humour to the tale and providing a story which children will love to read and adults will love to share with them.

Annie Everall

Titles for the young child just beginning to Read Alone

The Witch Dog

Written by Margaret Mahy

Illustrated by Sam Usher

Orion (eB)   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1444011340

Question: How does a witch cope if she is allergic to cats? Answer: Get a dog! Mrs. Rose has trained to be a witch, having just finished her course at night school. Now that she is fully qualified she can attend the Witches’ Dance and take her newly found dog, Nightshade, with her. Unfortunately, when she arrives at the dance, the cats and owls owned by the other witches were not at all pleased to see a dog arrive. However Nightshade has an unexpected talent. This is a very unusual book. The idea that anybody’s Mum can go to night school and become a witch is quite a strange starting point for a story. It is a lovely book, with a strong storyline and is fun to read. The text is clear and the illustrations are very amusing and perfectly match the text.

Patricia Thompson

Asterix and the Picts

Written by Jean-Yves Ferri

Illustrated by Didier Conrad

Orion (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-1444011692

As a child reader I devoured the Asterix graphic novels/comic books and they helped me gain reading confidence and stamina. Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad take on the mantle from Goscinny and Uderzo in this the thirty-fifth adventure for Asterix and Obelix. This time, our favourite Gauls are off to Caledonia, the land of the Picts; what we now recognise as Scotland. After being washed up frozen on the shores of Gaul, MacAroon needs help to return home and rescue his beloved. With magic potion, plenty of eating and drinking, and a little help from the Loch Ness monster, Asterix and Obelix help defeat the Roman threat in Scotland and put a stop to the evil machinations of the  MacCabees tribe. Aside from the expressive and often funny illustrations, the accompanying text is filled with the trademark combination of puns, humour and satire. This is another excellent adventure that will stand repeated readings and, I hope, make more lifelong readers.

Benjamin Scott


The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie

Written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg

Andersen   £11.99

ISBN: 978-1783441884

A feisty hamster determines to behave well when picked up in a pet shop so that he can go off to wherever all the other hamsters in his cage have disappeared to over the weeks. Hoping for adventure and excitement, he is in many ways disappointed as he is passed from one small child to another and variously mistreated or ignored. Humans do not come off well in this story, as no-one manages to care effectively for the hamster who is always, of course, in a cage of one sort of another. The illustrations are dynamic and often from an interesting point of view. Children having this book read to them will be able to get a real sense of the indignities and dangers that Sweetie Pie is put through by his various owners and will be relieved with the very satisfying ending.

Annalise Taylor

Titles for the Confident Reader in Primary School

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

Written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney

Puffin (eB)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-0141354217

Ninth in the Wimpy Kid series, this latest ‘diary’ offers the winning blend of conversational, reader-engaging narrative and amusingly eloquent graphics that has ensured Jeff Kinney’s place at the top of the popularity list for children’s writers. In this story of guaranteed mayhem, Mom Heffley, inspired by her magazine Family Frolic, decides the family needs a ‘bonding’ adventure. Greg, the Wimpy Kid, whose sole wish is to relax at home after a hard summer term, once again finds himself with zero control of his life as the regular cast, Mum, Dad, Roderick, Greg and Manny prepare for the ultimate road trip that will give them ‘authentic’ family experiences. The writer’s ability to tell many incidental stories within the much longer overarching story is a skill that keeps readers wanting more. The book is packed with episodes of silly comedy, pandemonium and nightmarish situations, like lost credit cards, lost keys and a rammed car. Playing a key role in the drama is a temporarily adopted pig and an unscrupulous family of fellow travellers. Plot driven, fast-paced and hugely entertaining for children, this will be another winner for its author.

Catriona Nicholson


The Snow Leopard

Written and illustrated by Jackie Morris

Frances Lincoln   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1847805478

Rarely does such a beautifully illustrated picture book offer such a lyrical text, making the reader feel part of a creation myth of immense style and authenticity. Since time’s beginning the snow leopard has sung life into the stars, sun and moon. Weaving songs to protect them, safe in her hidden Himalayan valley, she knows that time’s passing requires her to find her successor as Mergichan singer. Below in the valley, a girl child dreams her song even as soldiers enter it, seeking gold and slaves: “High in the sacred mountains the sacred cat walked alone, cloaked in her shadow- dappled fur. Crisp snow sparkled in icy stars beneath her huge paws, and all the while she sang. Down in the valley the Child slept, and in her dream she heard the ghost cat’s secret music, and saw the shadows of her dappled coat.” The child learns from the snow leopard the protective songs of the earth, its creatures, its weather, its space, until the day when the leopard leaps off into the stars and the child, become now a full grown snow leopard, begins her own, new song. This mini-edition is a tiny wonder, fifteen centimetres by eleven, which should become beloved by all who own it.

Tina Massey

Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans

Written and illustrated by Gary Northfield

Walker (eB)   £8.99

ISBN: 978-1406354928

A slice of Roman history, as told by a zebra. Friendship, loyalty and courage among trainee gladiators, including a lion, a giraffe and a warthog. Sounds bonkers? It is, completely and utterly, bonkers, but in a very entertaining way. It’s easy enough to spot the difference between actual historical facts and the author’s manic imagination. The handy Latin glossary at the back, with an explanation of how Roman numerals work, will help young readers to impress, or perhaps mystify, their friends.

Yvonne Coppard

Titles for readers Moving On from Primary to High School

Blue Moon Day

Written by Anne Fine

Corgi (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0552571883

Short stories set in a particular framework. Once in a blue moon, Sam needs a day off school but today, when she fakes a stomach ache, Mum has to go to work. Sam finds herself waiting in Mum’s car while she makes her welfare visits with just a book of short stories called Away from Home - and here they are. Sam thinks she might enjoy boarding school but the characters in the stories have mixed experiences. What about being in an institution for young offenders? Or what about going to a main stream school if you are blind? And there is a very ‘Anne Fine story’ about a girl who goes to a Convent School who explains to the staff, politely, that God doesn’t exist. Between each story Sam talks to her mother so we get two stories: Sam’s and the book of school stories. We also discover why Sam needs that ‘once in a blue moon’ day and how she realises something about her mother which reassures her. Both threads give us a good read with some meat on it.

Pat Thomson


The Children who Stayed Behind

Written by Bruce Carter

Illustrated by C. Walter Hodges

Vintage Classics (R) (eB)   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1784870225

This adventure story was originally published in 1958 and the writing, the illustrations and the plot all reflect that fact. Bruce Carter, who incidentally is the father of writers Deborah Moggach and Sarah Garland, imagines what might have happened if, during the Second World War, Brighton had been evacuated due to an actual German land invasion and two families of children had somehow been left behind in the deserted town. The two families in question are the Hartfords and the Foulshams and they are sworn enemies, so some major battles have to be fought before they all unite to help two injured airmen. In fiction anything is possible, so these children are able to have amazing adventures without a parent in sight. They get to do all the things other children can only dream of doing, like driving an armoured car, having free rein on Brighton pier, getting an old steam train moving again and eating baked beans for every meal - and through all of this there is a white rabbit called Kensington to be rescued. It’s all great fun.

Jan Lennon

The Marsh Road Mysteries: Diamonds and Daggers

Written by Elen Caldecott

Bloomsbury (eB)   £5.99

ISBN: 9781-4088-47527

First in a new series of detective mysteries, it introduces us to five friends, each from a different cultural background, who join forces to solve crime. When Piotr’s Dad is accused of the theft of a diamond necklace at the theatre where he works as a security guard, Dad’s first reaction is to return to Poland taking his family with him. Piotr doesn’t want to leave his new home and friends, and so. determined to prove his Dad’s innocence and stay in Marsh Road, he leads the search for the thief. This is a fast-moving whodunit with engaging characters, an urban Famous Five with whom my young reviewers identified as they eliminated one suspect after another till they finally tracked down the villain in a satisfying climax.

Julia Jarman

Titles for Young Teenage Readers


Young Bond: Shoot to Kill

Written by Steve Cole

Doubleday (eB)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-0857533739

Following Charlie Higson’s successful series of five Young Bond novels, Steve Cole takes up the challenge of further developing the amazing youth that will become James Bond. So strongly established is the Ian Fleming character that there is little need to stray from that which is known and loved in the original novels. What was required of Steve Cole were believable characters, particularly the villains, and a plot to match. He has succeeded in spades. Despite looking for a quiet time in a new school away from ‘nasties’ at Eton, James finds himself right up to his neck in torture, corruption, murder and megalomania. Flying the Atlantic on an airship he arrives in L.A. and Hollywood and is instantly targeted by Chicago gangster and a crazed film producer. The level of violence is perhaps more like later Bond Films than anything Ian Fleming might have written. However, the reader today is of this time and things have changed considerably over the past decades. The formula of high living, memorable villains, action and suspense is all here. This is a read to be enjoyed by everyone that loves a Bond adventure, which means millions of fans worldwide will love to pick up Shoot To Kill.

Trevor Thompson

Department 19: Zero Hour

Written by Will Hill

HarperCollins (eB)   £8.99

ISBN: 978-0007505845

This absolutely amazing read, the fourth in the series, will have your heart thudding, your skin creeping and your brain on high alert. Vampirism is growing all over the world and vampires are expected to outnumber ordinary humans within ten years. The vile and overwhelmingly powerful Dracula is converting more and more humans to powerful super vampires by his bite, creating awful creatures which are immensely strong, fly at impossible speeds and are utterly pitiless. Members of Department 19 are desperately struggling to combat the rising tide of menace, which, inflated by social media sites, is also causing witch-hunts for suspected vampires and worldwide terror. Matt Browning goes to America, seeking a cure for vampirism, whilst Jamie Carpenter and his girl, Larissa, enter the deep forests of eastern Europe in search of an ancient, dangerous but potentially powerful, ally. In a plot as complex as Le Carre’s, with locations as wide-ranging as Bond’s Skyfall, the young people and their allies take to the skies, tunnels and darkest forests to engage in battles which are bloody, horror-filled, intense and incredibly fast-paced, leaving the reader serially exhausted. Well written, convincing, with unpredictable characters and a climax like the 1812 Overture on speed, with flights and completely unexpected twists, this is a tremendous achievement.

Tina Massey


Boys Don’t Knit

ISBN: 978-1471401473

An English Boy in New York

ISBN: 978-1471401497

Written by T. S. Easton

Hot Key (eB)   £6.99  

Somehow Ben Fletcher attracts trouble like a magnet, even if he never means to. His heart is in the right place but things always manage to go wrong for him, usually as a result of his friends. After an unfortunate incident with a lollipop lady, a stolen bottle of Martini from a Waitrose supermarket and a harsh judge, he very nearly gets sent to a Young Offenders Unit. To avoid this he has to agree to give something back to the community and develop his sense of social alignment, take up a hobby and stay on the straight and narrow. Because the hot teacher from his school runs the Knitting Group, one of the hobby options open to him, he opts for this, but, as usual, things don’t quite go to plan. He discovers that he has a real talent for knitting and that he loves it. Balancing his successful journey towards the Knit Fair competition finals with the need to avoid his dad and his mates uncovering his secret and bringing eternal humiliation down on his head creates a hilarious and very readable story. In the sequel, his knitting journey continues as he is invited to New York for media interviews and to take part in another knitting competition, but, yet again, his plans go awry. His idea is to use the trip for a romantic few days away with his girlfriend, Megan, but when she mysteriously pulls out, he ends up forced to take his mate, Gex, a ‘wannabe gangsta’ and all-round liability. He quickly finds that his magnetism for trouble follows him across the ocean. Written in diary form, both novels are well written, witty and with laugh-out-loud humour. Characters are well developed and there is something achingly vulnerable about Ben. Being a knitter, really added to my enjoyment of the story and my appreciation of the humour. The knitting references and analogies are spot on. Boys Don’t Knit was on the Carnegie nomination list. Both novels are excellent and reminded me of Adrian Mole. They will have great appeal to teenage boys and girls alike.

Annie Everall

Titles for More Mature readers

Black Dove, White Raven

Written by Elizabeth Wein

Electric Monkey (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-1405271363

Elizabeth Wein has an admirable talent of taking fascinating characters and events which seem improbable and, through skilful writing, weaves them into an exciting, thrilling adventure. The fact that it is all based on real places, people and events makes the story all the more incredible as well as captivating and haunting. Emilia and Teo’s remarkable mothers are pilots, lovers, single parents and one is black, the other white. When Teo’s Mother Delia is tragically killed in an accident Rhoda takes the children to Ethiopia, the birthplace of Teo’s father. The descriptions of their new life on a coffee farm are as rich and colourful as the people who become their friends. An impending Italian invasion becomes a real threat to their small community and, although they try to keep out of trouble, they are soon embroiled in the conflict. Emilia uses all her ingenuity and flair, facing incredible odds to survive and unite her family. The realities of an unfair, unjust and unequal war are not spared in this engrossing and sometimes harrowing story but throughout the bonds of love and loyalty triumph across race, culture, colour and gender.

Louise Stothard


The Door That Led To Where

Written by Sally Gardner

Hot Key (eB)   £10.99

ISBN: 978-1471401084

This is a perfect fusion of time travel, murder mystery and historical novel. A. J. Flynn has failed all but one of his GCSE’s yet, despite this, he manages to get a job in a law firm. His mother is worse than useless and his mates, Leon and Slim, have similarly tough lives. But his life really starts to get complicated when he finds a key, with his name and date of birth on it, in the archives at work. When he manages to find the door that the key belongs to, he is compelled to go through it and discovers a very different London of 1830. From then on he ends up in a world of suspected murder and extreme danger, on both sides of the door. Which side of the door will he choose to stay in? An intriguing mystery with twists and turns and a clever mix of contemporary and historical.

Nicole Jordan


Rainey Royal

Written by Dylan Landis

Soho (eB)   £17.99

ISBN: 978-1616954529

Rainey Royal is the debut novel from U.S. author, Dylan Landis. It follows ten years of Rainey’s life; opening with her at age fourteen, living with her irresponsible father, Howard, a jazz musician, along with several of his musical acolytes. Rainey’s life is dysfunctional, with her frequently taking on the adult role in the father/daughter relationship. She relies on her friends, Tina and Leah, for support, but the thing that keeps her going is her desire to be an artist. She spends hours creating beautiful elaborate quilts from deceased people’s belongings. This very mature novel is very dark at times, for example, the friendship between Rainey and Gordy, her father’s best friend, and few of the characters are likable. Rainey herself has several negative traits, nevertheless you admire her strength and determination to achieve her ambition and escape from her father’s negative influence. Dylan Landis’ style of writing is distinctly staccato, as though the book is one of Rainey’s quilts, with episodes of her life stitched together to make a whole.

Jane Hall